Calls for the Chinese people to adopt a Jasmine revolution have sent its government into a state of crackdown against a host of groups, including churches.
Following a spate of increasingly weird diktats, including the official ban on any TV programmes showing time travel — in case it causes disaffection among its people — the Chinese government has been hauling hundreds of people into jail on trumped-up charges.
Already it has imprisoned international artist Ai WeiWei on allegations of economic crimes and now, according to charities Barnabas Fund and Release International, house churches and even some state-recognised churches are being closed down.
One house church in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, was able to carry out an Easter service, but the fully open Shouwang Church, overseen by the same pastor, had its premises ransacked and a dozen or so leaders put under house arrest or taken into detention.
According to the China Aid Foundation, Chinese police also detained Zhang Mingxuan, a Beijing pastor who is president of the Chinese House Church Alliance.
Barnabas Fund partners speak of ‘mafia-type violence’, as the persecution worsens for the fifth consecutive year. It gave as an example the Chengnan Three-Self Church in Tinghu district, Yancheng, Jiangsu province, which was forcibly demolished in November. Even Three-Self, officially recognised, state churches are coming under increasing threat.
The number of reported incidents of persecution has risen nearly 17 per cent from 77 cases in 2009 to 90 at the end of 2010. The number of people in detention has risen nearly 43 per cent.
The news came as Release International called on Christians to redouble prayer efforts for two Chinese Christian lawyers, detained without charge or trial in a crackdown on religious freedom.
Gao Zhisheng disappeared on 20 April 2010, soon after the authorities claimed they had released him. Another high-profile lawyer, Jiang Tianyong, was seized on 19 February and has not been heard of since. Both had been campaigning for religious freedom in China.